21 February 2008

What's luck got to do with it?

Reading Don Banks' article on the Giants' 2007 draft, I came (once again) to a conclusion: when an NFL team does well, that team's management are immediately and unjustly anointed as geniuses.

When the Patriots went 16-0 during the regular season, Bill Belichick was the greatest coach in the history of the NFL because of his ability to evaluate talent and acquire key players through the draft (never mind that he's not the GM). When the Colts won the super bowl, Tony Dungy and Bill Polian were the leading minds in the league. When the Saints came from nowhere to make it to the NFC championship game, it was obviously because Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis were acquiring terrific players that everyone else missed.

But... every general manager in the NFL is a smart guy. There are teams of smart guys (and women) working for every NFL team. In my eyes, the deciding factor between the very good and very bad teams can largely be described as simple luck.

It's bad luck when a player - a player who any NFL team would have drafted in the top 10 - doesn't pan out. Oakland Raiders? Any team would have drafted Robert Gallery. You just had the bad luck to draft, and pay millions of dollars to, a guy who turned out to be, at best, a marginal player. San Diego Chargers? Any team would have drafted Ryan Leaf. You just had the bad luck to draft, and pay millions of dollars to, a guy who turned out to be, at best, a head case.

It's good luck when a player - a player that every NFL team passed on multiple times - comes out of nowhere to play an integral part in a team's success. New York Giants? You passed on Ahmad Bradshaw eight times before you chose him.

I'm not saying that ability plays no role. But luck must be considered to play a big, big part.

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